Old Time Reminiscences - 1890 - MILLBROOK'S "DONNYBROOK" THIRTY-FIVE YEARS AGO

__________________

Speaking of old days in Millbrook, and of the wonderful change which a few years may bring about in the morals, manners, and institutions of a place, a well known gentleman who has long been an occasional visitor to Millbrook and is a great admirer of the place, said today -- "Millbrook, I think, is one of the prettiest and most orderly little towns in Canada. In fact in the matter of picturesque surroundings, pretty homes, fine business blocks, and clean, orderly streets, I know of no place of its size in the Dominion which will today compare with it. It has changed, and unquestionably improved, though since the memorable first day I was introduced to it, somewhere away back in the 'Fifties.' It had no regularly appointed

CHIEF OF POLICE

in those days I remember, and my first and abiding impression upon that occasion I confess, was that it needed one; but one with a subordinate force of at least one hundred good men, in order to enable him to occupy anything beyond a strictly neutral position in that day's festivities. It was fair day, otherwise known as "Donnybrook" in Millbrook and I had driven in from Cobourg that morning in company with a friend over roads the awful condition of which to a pedestrian, would have made walking or wading almost impossible, and swimming at least slow and difficult. As it was we pulled through but no one could possibly have told the original colour of our horse, rig or clothing, when we sighted the village. We looked as though we had been through an active political campaign in which all the 'mud' thrown had stuck. As we drove up to the rather pretentious looking tavern which then occupied the corner just west of where the Queen's stand today, the streets, covered almost knee deep with rich black 'muck', were fast filling up with

MEN AND CATTLE.

Family wagons with six, eight and ten in a load, fashionable buggies of great length, weight and durability and jaded, mud covered, saddle horses, were arriving from all directions and depositing their loads in front of taverns and stores. Frisky cattle with ropes 'round their horns, veteran 'trading horses' whose friskiness was less apparent than their desire for absolute rest, and something to lean against, were being lead, driven, or ridden about by owners in quest of 'trade' or sale. Of the horses brought in for purposes of speculation the average price asked appeared to be about $5 and the 'drinks,' which price, however, under the combined pressure of a weak market and a devastating thirst, was not infrequently reduced to $1.75 'and the drinks,' aforesaid. The value of the animal seemed determined by the amount of human weight it could stand under and the time it could make in a wild and staggering gallop up the crowded and dirty road from one tavern to another. When a bunch of half a dozen of these noble ruins got well together in a contest of this kind the struggle became at once 'killing' and

THE EXCITEMENT INTENSE.

The variety of action, too, induced by such a complication of ring-bone, spring-halts, spavin, old age and general debility, as these animals possessed was a feature which added much to the general effect. It also gave to the race a peculiar element of uncertainty, as it quite frequently happened that the "favourite" would unexpectedly go lame early in the race, owing to the jockey's carelessness in crowding in too close to the victim of a bad case of spring-halts. A study of the crowd, which I had ample time to make after getting dinner and starting out to see the sights, convinced me that the promise of a little trade and a good deal of "divarshun" had induced many of these people to brave those awful roads and drive long distances to attend the fair. A walk down the street was made difficult by reason of the crowd which lined either side, or collected in little knots in the middle of the road, where horse-trading, cattle-buying and pugilistic encounters appeared to about equally divide the attention of the assembled. Business in the stores seemed to be good, particularly in such stores as made a specialty of buns, "choke-dog" and other light and

FILLIN' REFRESHMENTS.

"Choke-dog" by the way, has long since disappeared from the grocery counter, where it once reigned supreme. It is a pity, for besides being cheap it was unrivalled as a "stayer." One good wad in the old days was sufficient to provide an ordinary country boy with breakfast, dinner and supper and to maintain his appetite for an entire week after. As its always the case, altho' the majority was orderly and quietly mindful of its own business, the noisy element as evening came on seemed to predominate and from that time forward fights became more and more frequent and the scene to me was a wild and curious one. From an improvised platform in front of one of the taverns as we got to the end of the street, a local celebrity was haranguing a cheering and humorously disposed crowd in front, whose attention by the by did not seem in the least distracted by two vigorously contested rough and tumble fights which were going forward less than twenty yards away. The fine North of Ireland eloquence of the orator was a moment later diverted from its subject by an unsavoury and unexpected baptism which was administered from a bedroom window above; and a portion of it scattering on the crowd below, a wild rush was made on the door, and in another minute the place resembled a hornet's nest at the moment a rail has been forcibly inserted into it. A fair idea of the condition of the streets may be gathered from a brief description of a scene which I witnessed a few minutes later.

ONE "CLAW-HAMMER,"

a well-known local character, who had inadvertently brought upon himself the displeasure of the "bar-keeper" by securing a large five cent drink and then starting out without paying for same, had been ruthlessly seized by the collar and trousers and "fired out" into the road. Not being a "hefty" man and being propelled with great force "claw-hammer" sailed out clear of the narrow sidewalk and disappeared with a plunk in the mud beyond; and close to where two very much begrimed and befuddled gentlemen who were trying to smother each other in a dirty pool into which they had rolled a moment before. At this moment Mrs. C. who had been following up the erring "claw-hammer" appeared on the scene, attracted by his wild cry for help as he disappeared; but unconscious of the cause or locality of the trouble. Catching sight of the struggle that was going on near at hand and failing to recognize the once spruce and gentlemanly "claw" in the dripping object that slowly rose before her, with wifely intuition she decided at once that that unfortunate gentleman must be the bottom man in the fight. With loud voice and a large gingham umbrella she straightway attacked with great ferocity the unfortunate gentleman who at that moment

CHANCED TO BE UPPERMOST.

She only desisted when poor Mr. "claw-hammer" had succeeded in clearing away enough mud to enable him to see and speak again. When he had done so he made his way over and touching her arm asked humbly and earnestly to be taken home.

Toward night it appeared as if the numerous encounters which had enlivened the day's proceedings had been merely the scattered and unimportant fire of pickets, preceding the general engagement, and that at the proper time these outposts had been called in on the main body, in order to take part in a big faction fight which afterwards followed. At all events I saw a good many of these bruised and soiled veterans in the ranks when the D______ and S_______ factions met that night and wiped off old scores which had been left unsettled since the close of the previous fair.

Millbrook, I might add, contained at this time about six hundred inhabitants and possessed in addition to its many natural advantages, four hotels, a distillery, a brewery, three "whisky" shops and about eight general stores.

TRACK LAYING ON THE MIDLAND

R.R. was then going on and Main street from the Queen's hotel west had not yet been opened up, the business portion of the place extending east and north of this corner. I had almost forgotten to mention that Millbrook at this period also possessed a frame schoolhouse, about 18X26, and a little frame "meeting house" for all Protestants. The Roman Catholic element was not sufficiently strong to warrant the risk involved in the erection of a church at this time. The fair I might also have mentioned, was originally intended as a sort of market day for the sale of horses, cattle and produce; and its local importance may be gathered from the fact that it then attracted buyers from Kingston, Toronto and other large towns. It was held annually on the first Monday in November, and until it finally dwindled down and deteriorated into a day for trading old horses and sampling the native whisky, was the one important day of the year, not even excepting the great, glorious and only Twelfth of July. It was lively in those days but it was -- a little bit uncivilized and "raw". It is now some years since the

LAST DONNYBROOK

was held in Millbrook and many years since we have witnessed anything like a renewal of the old fair day proceedings. Today Millbrook streets are orderly and quiet (almost too quiet perhaps) and with the exception of such little "ebullitions" as occur between local statesmen occasionally, about New Year's time, white-winged Peace is usually found perched undisturbed within our gates, and the local policeman's lot is not an unhappy one.

As Donnybrook had passed away, so too has the once famous "roast." Peace be with it. It gave delight in its time to many a "broth of a boy."

TIMOTHY, Millbrook 1890


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